Elsewhere on the Web : World Championship News

Sunday January 28, 2007

The last time we looked at plans for the World Chess Championship (Elsewhere on the Web Candidate Matches?, 26 November 2006), there were still many unknowns regarding the current championship cycle. Since then certain points have become clear. Here's a summary of recent announcements and a schedule for 2007.

The flurry of announcements left one important point open. What format would FIDE use to run the next championship cycle starting with the World Cup?

In early December, FIDE proposed a new format for a two year championship cycle (Proposal on the change of the World Chess Championship Cycle, 6 December 2006). In the first year of the cycle, the World Cup would determine a new challenger. The 128 players seeded into the World Cup would be split into 16 round robin tournaments of eight players each; the winners of those events would be split into two more eight-player round robins; and the winners of those would play a short match. In the second year of the cycle, the winner of the World Cup would meet the reigning World Champion in a match. This was certain to spark controversy, but FIDE's proposal was soon overshadowed by another announcement.

Topalov Challenges Kramnik to a Rematch

After Veselin Topalov lost the 2006 World Championship Unification Match to Kramnik, Kramnik took Topalov's spot in the World Championship Tournament, Mexico. This meant that Topalov, who had been the FIDE World Champion before the match started, was now excluded from the FIDE championship cycle and would have to start the new cycle with 127 other players at the 2007 World Cup.

There was, however, a ray of hope for Topalov. A new FIDE rule, introduced at the beginning of 2006, allowed players meeting certain conditions to issue a direct title challenge to the FIDE World Champion. In May, while still World Champion, Topalov had been challenged by GM Teimour Radjabov of Azerbaijan. Originally planned for April 2007 in Baku, the match was cancelled when Topalov lost to Kramnik.

Using the same rule, Topalov had the opportunity to challenge Kramnik. Media rumors that Topalov would exercise his right to such a match began during a friendly blindfold match against Judith Polgar in Bilbao, Spain. The rumors were repeated on Topalov's official web site, VeselinTopalov.net, as reported in the following posts on the site.

The reports proved to be more than rumor and the challenge was confirmed a few days later.

Informed observers pointed out that there were two big obstacles to the match. The first was that Kramnik might not accept that it be played on Topalov's home turf in Sofia, Bulgaria. The second was that the FIDE regulation required the match to finish six months before the start of the World Championship Tournament in Mexico.

FIDE found a different reason to reject the challenge. The bank guarantee provided by the Bulgarians was not from a bank acceptable to FIDE's Swiss bank. Within a few days, a new bank guarantee was provided.

FIDE promised to deliver a decision on 27 January.

Did Topalov Accuse Kramnik of Cheating?

At the same time the Bulgarians were issuing a formal challenge to Kramnik via FIDE, more media reports emanated from Spain. In an interview published in the Spanish newspaper ABC (abc.es), Topalov himself accused Kramnik of cheating during their title match. Until then, the cheating accusations had all been made by Danailov.

Why was Topalov accusing his opponent of cheating at the same time he was seeking a rematch? His website claimed it was a misunderstanding, and Danailov resumed the job of hurling accusations.

Was this strange behavior some kind of public relations ploy to grab a bored public's attention (on the lines of 'Since Kramnik's been cheating, I'll give him a beating!')? Instead of responding in kind ('I'm gonna pop the top off Topalov!'), Kramnik pointed out via his manager that Topalov 'can be disqualified for three years for breaking the ethical code [of] FIDE'. The world chess body later declined to take any action against Topalov or his manager. After all, FIDE's cut for a rematch would be 20% of the prize fund.

Global Chess

All of this nonsense alone made December 2006 a memorable news month for the World Chess Championship, but there was more. FIDE announced that the job of marketing professional chess would henceforth be outsourced.

Despite the rancorous presidential election, or perhaps because of it, 'The FIDE President clearly understood that in such a way for the first time he attracts serious western management to work in the federation'. The year 2006 had been a good one for professional chess: a reunified championship, considerable media attention, professional marketing, and a solid schedule of events for 2007.

Index of all World Championship blog posts